With the debate on the health implication of the Fifth Generation (5G) technology, and the purported cabling of 5G fibre optic infrastructure in Nigeria, the Nigeria Information Technology Association (NITRA), an umbrella body for ICT Journalists in Nigeria, has laid out the facts concerning the effect of the technology to human health.
In a statement by the Association, the Chairman, Mr. Chike Onwuegbuchi explained that 5G is expected to connect people, things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in smart networked communication environments. The technology should transport a huge amount of data much faster, reliably connect an extremely large number of devices and process very high volumes of data with minimal delay.
“5G technologies are expected to support applications such as smart homes and buildings, smart cities, 3D video, work and play in the cloud, remote medical services, virtual and augmented reality, and massive machine-to-machine communications for industry automation. 3G and 4G networks currently face challenges in supporting these services,” he explained.
Mr. Onwuegbuchi however pointed out that despite the allegations by conspiracy theorists on the availability of 5G services in Nigeria, the cabling for 5G infrastructure, and the link between 5G and the current COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria has not even released spectrum for 5G services to Mobile Network Operators (MNO), therefore it is technically impossible to run a 5G service in the country.
According to the NITRA Chairman, the Nigerian public should only source information from reliable authorities and experts on the issue, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU); the World Health Organisation (WHO), the nation’s telecommunication regulatory body, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and the supervisory Ministries, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Ministry of Health.
Mr. Onwuegbuchi cited expert opinions on the matter, quoting WHO, which has categorically stated that viruses cannot travel on radio waves or mobile networks and that COVID-19 is a respiratory disease.
The technology was approved by the ITU.
ITU plays a leading role in managing the radio spectrum and developing globally applicable standards for IMT-2020. Its activities support the development and implementation of international regulations and standards to ensure that 5G networks are secure, interoperable, and that they operate without causing or receiving harmful interference to or from adjacent services.
Discussing alleged health risks from 5G, the WHO documented that “to date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.”
However, WHO is further conducting a health risk assessment from exposure to radiofrequencies, covering the entire radiofrequency range, including 5G, to be published by 2022. WHO will review scientific evidence related to potential health risks from 5G exposure as the new technology is deployed, and as more public health-related data become available.
WHO established the International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Project in 1996. The project investigates the health impact of exposure to electric and magnetic fields in the frequency range 0-300 GHz and advises national authorities on EMF radiation protection.
On exposure levels, the WHO further establishes that currently, exposure from 5G infrastructures at around 3.5 GHz is similar to that from existing mobile phone base stations. “With the use of multiple beams from 5G antennas, exposure could be more variable as a function of location of the users and their usage. Given that the 5G technology is currently at an early stage of deployment, the extent of any change in exposure to radiofrequency fields is still under investigation.”
A spokeswoman for the telecoms trade body GSMA said the new limits showed the safety of current and future technology. “Importantly, the health risk assessment is unchanged. The review found no established health risks to anyone, including children, using mobile phones or living near base stations,” she said.
A GSMA report reiterates that 5G adoption would grow as its benefits become visible. It points to the slow pace of awareness around the technology, suggesting that even increased knowledge about the usefulness need not translate into actions to upgrade or even intentions to do so.
Also, shedding more light on the issue, an independent international standards body, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which was set up in 1992 to assess the impact of electromagnetic and acoustic waves on people and the environment, said its current guidelines are mostly appropriate for the 5G era.
Medical health specialist have also lent their voices to the issue. Condemning the theories as “the worst kind of fake news”, National Medical Director of NHS England, Professor Steve Powis said: “I’m absolutely outraged, absolutely disgusted, that people would be taking action against the very infrastructure that we need to respond to this health emergency.”
Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol, Professor Adam Finn, in his position said: “The internet connections these networks give us are one of the most important tools we are using to co-ordinate our response to the epidemic and efforts to do research to overcome it.”
Also, professor of microbial pathogenesis at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Prof Brendan Wren, said a connection between the phone masts and the virus would be “both a physical and biological impossibility.”
While applauding the people’s need for caution, Mr. Onwuegbuchi called on Nigerians to embrace new technologies as a means of improving the economy and joining global competitiveness.
He reiterated the motive behind the laying of fibre optic cables by MNOs, saying that the new cables are very necessary to improve the quality of service of telecommunication services, especially at the period when the networks are in increased usage. He further explained that the timing was to enable the MNOs work feely without obstructing traffic or easy movement of people.
He stressed that the laid fibre optic cables were for 3G and 4G services and cannot be used for 5G service yet because the operators have not been issued spectrum for the service.
While pledging support for the NCC and the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy in their bid to position Nigeria among the Digitally Innovative nations, NITRA urged Nigerians to look beyond the rumours surrounding the 5G technology and support the federal government if, and when they eventually choose to adopt the technology.
“Just like the NCC and the Ministry said, before the country will adopt 5G technology, they will consult all stakeholders, and research further into the implications of the technology,” Mr. Onwuegbuchi encouraged.
The Nigeria Information Technology Reporters Association (NITRA) is the umbrella association for information and communication technology reporters in Nigeria.